The antioxidant resveratrol, a natural compound in grape skins, may provide the first known cure for a deadly neurodegenerative disease known as adult-onset neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (ANCL), according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool and published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.
“ANCL is fortunately rare but it is currently untreatable,” lead researcher Alan Morgan said. “This research allows us to quickly test compounds which could be used for treatment. Of the first batch of compounds we used in testing our model, one has already shown encouraging effects.”
The study was funded by Age UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Wellcome Trust.
First known treatment
ANCL affects about one out of every 100,000 people in Europe and North America, typically striking adults in their 30s and leading to death by the mid-40s. Although researchers have been unable to find any treatment for the disease until now, previous studies have connected it with mutations on a gene known as DNAJC5.
The breakthrough that allowed the new findings was the discovery that nematode worms can be induced to develop ANCL by causing mutations on the gene dnj-14, which plays a similar role to DNAJC5 in humans. And because the nematodes have a lifespan of only a few weeks, they develop symptoms of the disease within days. This drastically reduces the time frame needed to study potential ANCL treatments.
“As we face an increasingly ageing population, having treatments for these conditions becomes ever more critical,” Morgan said. “Studying how these diseases work in a simple organism which is easy and cheap to breed, can speed up the process of developing effective drugs.”
Using this model, researchers tested a wide variety of chemicals on nematodes with ANCL. One of these — resveratrol — successfully treated the disease. In addition, it did so without needing to act through an enzyme known as SIR-2.1, as many other potential treatments have had to do.
Encouraged by the results, the researchers are planning to test more chemicals’ potential as ANCL treatments, and also to see whether nematodes can be used to test potential treatments for other neurodegenerative diseases.
A miracle antioxidant
The findings are only the latest to suggest that resveratrol could play a major role in maintaining and restoring human health. For several decades, scientists have been investigating this remarkable antioxidant, and many have suggested that it may be behind numerous health benefits of red wine.
As an antioxidant, resveratrol removes free radicals from the blood, which have been linked to chronic diseases, inflammation and the effects of aging. Yet, even more than other antioxidants, resveratrol has shown remarkable potential in various scientific studies.
Researchers have shown that resveratrol is able to extend the lifespans of simple organisms (such as yeast and worms), and even more complex animals such as fish. For example, one 2003 study showed that resveratrol supplementation increased the lifespan of short-lived fish by more than 50 percent. The resveratrol-treated fish also showed better swimming and learning ability into old age than the untreated fish.
Another study found that resveratrol may have potential in helping prevent type 2 diabetes. Researchers from August Cieszkowski University of Agriculture found that it reduced blood insulin levels in rats, without any damaging effects on their blood sugar levels. Another rat experiment found that resveratrol improved recovery and reduced damage from stroke.
Studies have also shown that resveratrol protects plants from infection, increases the effectiveness of some anti-HIV drugs, improves endurance and counteracts the effects of a high-fat diet in mice, and may protect against cancer.
Sources for this article include: